10 May, 2001
Why I'm On the Internet
Anyone who has followed the history of this site (is there anyone who has followed the history of this site?) will know that when originally launched, it was intended as a complement and promotional tool for the paper version of "The Journals of Simon Pariah". When Diamond Comics declined to solicit the book in their "Previews" magazine, their near-monopoly on the distribution of new books put a serious roadblock in front of my plans for the book, and I had to rethink my strategy entirely.
Further to that, and especially after reading Scott McCloud's "Reinventing Comics", I decided that it might be worthwhile to attempt to reach my audience by distributing the comic as an e-book on a pay-per-download basis. Distribution, promotional and production costs were minimal, while the potential audience was much larger. Once again, the chasm between the real world and my ideal one halted me in my tracks. First of all, the only software that could publish the book at an acceptable level of quality and security (Adobe Acrobat) was prohibitively expensive. Secondly, the micropayment systems discussed by Mr. McCloud in his book still do not exist at a usable level. I investigated several. Some of them were not active in North America; some of them were not yet active at all (such as Millicent, the "best hope" of the bunch), and some did not even bother to respond to my inquiries (again I point to Millicent...not good business, folks). This meant that once again, I might have to alter my plans in order to ensure that the work got any sort of distribution at all.
For some time now, my friend Ian McDonald, author of Bruno the Bandit, had been telling me that I should try publishing Simon as a daily comic strip, much like his own work. Any possible revenue would come from such things as ad banners and merchandising sales. I had been resisting as the style and format of the stories I want to tell do not lend themselves to the daily strip format, and because I did not want to give up altogether on the idea of micropayment distribution of some kind. More recently, he suggested I look into the PayPal system, which allows readers to voluntarily contribute money to a website/creator in small amounts, much like a micropayment system, without all the features. This would leave the choice and amount of payment to those who wanted to or felt obligated to pay for the work they would read. This sounded like a risky venture to me, as I could possibly put years of work into the stories and see nothing in return for them.
However, since then I have done some reading and thinking on
the matter, and what follows are my conclusions.
The greatest potential for the internet is the transmission of information on an unrestricted basis. Whether I want access to an online database, or would like to read the complete works of Shakespeare, it is all available to me at little or no cost through the internet. The information transmitted has the potential to reach the entire human race at once, a potential only currently limited by the number of people who have internet access, and to do so almost immediately after it is made available. Never before has this much information been available on this wide a scale in this short a timeline.
The downside of this is that due to the ease of transmission, an unprecedentedly large amount of information, much of it objectively useless, is being made available through the internet. This makes it difficult for any specific information to "filter through"....even if you go searching for a particular piece, you have to be prepared to sift through much irrelevant information first. This calls for higher and stricter evaluative skills on the part of the "reader" in determining the worth of any information found on the internet. Essentially, every piece of information made available is in direct competition with every other piece of information made available for the attention of every single person using the internet. There are ways to make this process easier...search engines, directories, portals, etc., but the individual is still faced with a multitude of choices.
For works of fiction like mine, this fact means that my work is in direct competition with every other work of fiction available on the internet....from the Gutenburg Library edition of "Beowulf" to the latest episode of Bruno the Bandit. Therefore, allowing that a "reader", even an avid one, only has a certain amount of time daily to spend browsing or reading fictional work on the internet, the choice of reading material will therefore be made according to the relative quality of the work, as well as its relevance to the person doing the reading. With so much information available, and so much of it free, any work published on the internet has to be readily accessible to the "reader", and has to be of such quality as to keep them interested in the act of reading. Any work, especially by an unrecognized author, that is difficult to access (e.g. has to be paid for before reading), or that is not well produced, runs a high risk of being quickly forgotten.
On a personal level, this means that in order to reach the widest possible audience in the shortest possible time, I have to make my work freely available to the audience I want to reach. As "The Journals of Simon Pariah" is as much a story of ideas as it is of action, this is a factor that is highly important to me, perhaps equally so with my desire to make a living from the book. Consequently, I have decided to make the book "free" to all readers who are interested, for as long as it takes me to reach a suitable audience. I have confidence in the quality of the work, and want to allow readers to develop that same confidence before they are asked to contribute financially to its success.
Of course, that is not to say that financial remuneration is not welcomed, and will still eventually be the deciding factor in the continuance of the series. If I cannot make it feasible in the long term, I will not continue to do it, or at least not in the same way. At present, I have signed up for a PayPal membership which will allow me to accept voluntary micropayments through my website (theoretically.....the feature is still not available in my location, frustratingly), and I will ask that any readers who find the book of suitable quality and wish to help keep it alive offer as much as they think the work is worth, whether that be $1 or $1000. In this way, in the true spirit of the internet, the return I get will be tied in directly to the quality of the work I do....a truly Capitalist idea. And if I get nothing...well, that will be an indication too, won't it?
All this is also not to say that the book is completely free, as I would ask some small things of the people who read it, the results of which will again depend on the quality of the work and its value to the internet "readers". First of all, I ask that readers of the book contact me by email, whether it be with a quick "Hello" or an extended critique, and let me know what they think of the book. I do not want to work in a vacuum, and if I succeed or fail, I would like to know why. Secondly, I ask that any who find the book of suitable quality "Spread the Word", which is to say that you help me widen my audience by telling friends, acquaintances, relatives, anyone at all, about the book and how to find it. In that way, the time it takes to reach the widest possible audience will be shortened, and the final state of the work can be reached sooner.
In the coming months, additional features like a message board and a mailing list will be added to the site to allow readers other means in which to express their ideas on the work, and I hope to soon have the PayPal feature fully functional. Until those features are available, I am very interested in hearing what you think of this move, and will do my best to personally answer any correspondence that comes to me. I hope to be hearing from you soon.
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